dis·​tend di-ˈstend How to pronounce distend (audio)
distended; distending; distends

transitive verb

: extend
the main outlines of the land yet lay clearly distended before themNorman Douglas
: to enlarge, expand, or stretch out (as from internal pressure) : swell
a distended abdomen

intransitive verb

: to become enlarged, expanded, or stretched out
causing the stomach to distend

Did you know?

The history of the word distend stretches back to the Latin verb tendere—a root whose kin have really expanded the English language. To find evidence of this expansion, look to words that include "tend" or "tent"; many have tendere, which means "to stretch, extend, or spread," in their family tree. Perhaps the simplest example is tent, which names a shelter made from a piece of material stretched over a frame. You'll also find the influence of tendere in extend, tendon, contend, portend, and tendency.

Choose the Right Synonym for distend

expand, amplify, swell, distend, inflate, dilate mean to increase in size or volume.

expand may apply regardless of the manner of increase (such as growth, unfolding, addition of parts).

a business that expands every year

amplify implies the extension or enlargement of something inadequate.

amplify the statement with details

swell implies gradual expansion beyond a thing's original or normal limits.

the bureaucracy swelled to unmanageable proportions

distend implies outward extension caused by pressure from within.

a distended abdomen

inflate implies expanding by introduction of air or something insubstantial and suggests a vulnerability to sudden collapse.

an inflated ego

dilate applies especially to expansion of circumference.

dilated pupils

Example Sentences

an abdomen distended by disease
Recent Examples on the Web Blebs signal cell suicide; when stressed cells start chopping up their own proteins, their membranes distend. Laura Mallonee, Wired, 19 May 2020 In a bare living room, Huang struggled with a paper folder, his fingers distended like misshapen balloons. Washington Post, 29 Dec. 2019 In a bare living room, Huang struggled with a paper folder, his fingers distended like misshapen balloons. Anchorage Daily News, 30 Dec. 2019 And that power remains with opinion leaders who are, at this point, skilled hands at distending their own cultural anxieties into panics that—time and time and time again—smother history, fact, and common sense into irrelevance. Osita Nwanevu, The New Republic, 23 Sep. 2019 Water in her muscles will convert into vapor, which will collect under Lisa’s skin, distending areas of her body to twice their normal size. Caitlin Doughty, Popular Mechanics, 18 Sep. 2019 On one table lay the body of someone frozen statue-like in death, the stomach distended and a hand jutting stiffly outward. Sonia Perez D., chicagotribune.com, 8 June 2018 One person who saw the corpse of the officer, Major General Ali al-Qahtani, said his neck was twisted as if it had been broken, and that his body was badly bruised and distended. BostonGlobe.com, 12 Mar. 2018 Larger cells in a woman’s heart could interrupt its electrical pathways, the authors suspect, and extra pressure against the lungs (due to a woman’s large size) could cause the heart to distend. Amanda Macmillan, Time, 8 Sep. 2017 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'distend.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Word History


Middle English, from Latin distendere, from dis- + tendere to stretch — more at thin

First Known Use

15th century, in the meaning defined at transitive sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of distend was in the 15th century


Dictionary Entries Near distend

Cite this Entry

“Distend.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/distend. Accessed 21 Mar. 2023.

Kids Definition


dis·​tend dis-ˈtend How to pronounce distend (audio)
: to stretch or bulge out in all directions : swell

Medical Definition


transitive verb
dis·​tend dis-ˈtend How to pronounce distend (audio)
: to enlarge or stretch out (as from internal pressure)
distended veins

intransitive verb

: to become expanded
Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!

Challenging Standardized Test Words

  • high school student holding a pencil leaning over a sat test
  • Despite the cacophony, the student tried to study.
Name That Thing

You know what it looks like… but what is it called?

Solve today's spelling word game by finding as many words as you can with using just 7 letters. Longer words score more points.

Can you make 12 words with 7 letters?